Gazidis: Milan must invest in youth to restore glory days
MILAN (AP) — As AC Milan looks to overcome record financial losses and its worst league start in eight decades, the club's strategy for returning to the top of world football consists of investing in youth, according to chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
Financially-troubled Milan reported a deficit of 145.9 million euros ($161.2 million) — the worst in the club's history — from its first season under the ownership of American hedge fund Elliott Management.
The situation on the pitch is bleak as well, as Milan's worst start in 81 years saw the dismissal of coach Marco Giampaolo, who had only been hired in the offseason. He was replaced by Stefano Pioli last month.
Milan has fallen a long way since the heady days of the late 1980s to 1990s when it was one of the most feared teams in Europe, winning six Serie A titles and three European Cups.
It hasn't even played in the Champions League since the 2013-14 season and Sunday's loss to Roma — its fifth defeat in nine matches — left it 12th in Serie A, just three points off the relegation zone.
At a shareholder's meeting on Monday, Gazidis said the club plans to turn things around by focusing on youth.
"We have a clear strategy," said the former Arsenal CEO. "It is to invest in younger players whose best years are ahead of them who can develop with us into top class players ... we now have the youngest team in the league.
"While this is an important part of the strategy it does not preclude investing also in experienced leaders who can help guide our young players as they grow and develop."
Elliott took control of Milan last year after the club's former Chinese-led consortium missed a deadline to repay part of a loan worth more than 300 million euros ($350 million), that it had used to purchase the club from former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April 2017.
Although Milan is a seven-time European champion, its finances have taken a hit during a six-year failure to qualify for the Champions League.
The club was banned from this season's Europa League because of UEFA financial fair play breaches.
"Because of the inherited losses of the club, we brought to a close historical FFP breaches by accepting a ban from the Europa League, which was especially painful for a club with the European history of Milan," Gazidis said. "We know we will have to bring the club into line with FFP, while at the same time improving on field performance ... This requires us to bring costs under control, while improving the team over time, a task which is not easy or simple."
Gazidis said the club is working on increasing Milan's commercial capability. It has already started investing in the digital world and is also building a commercial team to increase its revenue from merchandising as well as focusing on securing more sponsorship.
"I believe in the importance and the beauty of this project, to restore Milan as a progressive beacon of football around the world, Gazidis said. "I'm not foolish enough to think that it will be quick or easy, and I don't believe that any of you are either ... I understand the doubts, I know that there have been false dawns before and that patience is difficult."